Life in an Agency: Agency Roles and Responsibilities

When we talk about roles in an agency, we're actually discussing types of jobs. In a chaotic environment where clients are gods and deadlines are doomsdays, the lines between these jobs become blurred.

It's not uncommon for one person to perform more than one role and for a group of people to juggle the same role between them. What matters is that the job gets done right within a specific time frame.

Define “done right” and “specific time frame”. To do this, we need to take a few steps back and talk about client relationships, team coordination, and time management.

agency roles and responsibilities

Meet the Protagonists of an Agency

Let's meet the heroes of a typical agency! Each of these roles contributes in its own way to completing projects on time and providing the best service there is to clients.

Project Managers

Responsible for defining project scope, time estimates, and available resources. They make sure the team sets reasonable and achievable deadlines and then organize activities to accomplish them successfully.

Roles and Responsibilities of Project Managers

Account Executives

Establishing the first contact and maintaining a productive relationship with clients is their primary role. They're the ones who communicate with clients regularly and make sure they're happy with the projects' results and delivery. Account Executives are often the bridge between a client and the team that brings their ideas to life.

Roles and Responsibilities of Account Executives


The term "designer" covers a wide span of jobs. From art directors to graphic designers, they define the visual aspect of a creative project.

Roles and Responsibilities of Designers

Software Developers

Coding is the art of transforming a design and functionality into digital reality. There are about a dozen types of developers whose job is to collaborate with designers, clients, and product owners.

Read About All Types of Developers


If you're in the business of software, you know that it has to be bug and glitch-free before it's delivered to users. Testers are there to creatively find every possible scenario a customer could go through when using the product, detect any issues, and report them back to developers.

Learn More About Software Testers

Scrum Master / Agile Coach

These roles are typical for software companies; however, they are sometimes employed as consultants by agencies in an attempt to apply management methodologies successfully to other industries.

Roles and Responsibilities of Scrum Masters

Product Owner

Stemmed from the Scrum/Agile framework, this role successfully links the business strategy and the development team. They prioritize tasks and ensure the company's goals are reached on time by working closely with developers.

Become a Successful Product Owner

Office Managers

Paperwork is most certainly a big part of an Office Manager's job. Legal matters, contracts, reports, and other administrative tasks keep them busy. Communication and correspondence with management, employees, and external partners is the other side of the job description coin.

Read All About the Indispensable Role of Any Business

HR Managers

Hiring new employees, taking care of their onboarding process, making sure they interact with others smoothly, and constantly following their performance and compensation are all responsibilities of the HR department. They work closely with office managers and upper management.

A Supporting Function of the Entire Business

Social Media Manager

Back in the day, it was all about newspaper ads, billboards, and radio jingles. Now, the presence on social media platforms speaks volumes of a brand's strategy. Social Media Managers are there to represent their company in the best way possible and push messages to their audience.

Read All About Those Who Manage Communities

SEO Specialist

There are myriads of brands out there fighting for the best search results. It's not always a fair fight, and when you don't have the means, you need to have the brains. On the other hand, you need to play your hand right even if you have the means. That's where SEO Specialists step in. They'll tell you which keywords need funding and which ones should be overlooked.

How SEO Experts Optimize Their Presence on the Web


Designers tell a brand's story through images, while writers do it through words. From 30-character headlines to 3000-word long pages, Copywriters and Content Writers spread the word about a company's mission and its offer.

Roles and Responsibilities of Copywriters

PPC Managers

If you want to make an appearance in the digital world, you need to invest. Managing pay-per-click ads is a full-time job that requires daily fine-tuning and attention. This role is strictly linked to SEO, market research, and budgeting.

Learn All About the PPC World

Business Developers

Scanning the market and forging new partnerships is what these team members do. They make sure an agency doesn't have to choose between feast and famine when it comes to business deals.

Roles and Responsibilities of Business Developers

Creative Directors

The creative manager is a seasoned creative with tons of ideas and experience. They make a perfect mentor for other creative professionals, but they also point them in the right direction and motivate them.

Find Out What Creative Directors Do

“Authenticity, honesty, and personal voice underlie much of what’s successful on the Web.” – Rick Levine

Process of Project Realization

The main steps to completing a project don't vary much, no matter the industry or budget.

1. Client Acquisition and Communication

The primary responsibility of the Sales team is to find new clients and present to them the benefits of working together. In the digital industry, recommendations are, more often than not, how new clients enter the stage. Agencies rarely have a Salesperson on their team, and this role is usually taken over by the agency's owner or Account Manager.

Speaking of Account Managers, their role is the most important one in the scene playing out after the initial contact with a client: negotiation and maintaining constant communication.

client acquisition

2. Project Initiation [Scope and Staffing]

Clients usually walk in with specific requests and ideas. The Account Managers have to define them as precisely as possible to estimate the project correctly and create an accurate quote.

Then, it's the team's job to assess if they're able to execute the project and by when. If the project in question is larger than anything they've done before, it might be necessary to hire an extra pair of hands.

This is where HR steps in and helps out with the process. An important issue to solve is whether to hire people full-time or to collaborate with freelancers or other agencies.

In our interviews, we've come across several companies that consist of only two people. They take on a project, complete the tasks they're qualified for, and outsource the rest to freelancers they regularly work with. This way, they become clients themselves!

One of the best practices is sending the client a statement of work where you define the project's scope in detail. Once they approve it, a deal is made, and the agency can begin working on its tasks.

project initiation and scope

3. Project Management—the Main Act

Although each company tends to organize itself in different ways, Project Managers are the ones who, by definition, take over managing projects, just as their job title suggests. Their main goal is to ensure the team doesn't stray away from the scope and deliver the requested service on time.

The first step is to break down the project into smaller pieces that are easier to handle. The larger the project, the more significant is this first step because without it, chaos takes over. Depending on the complexity, several stages are formed, a timeline, and dependencies between various tasks. Most Project Managers use tools such as project management apps to help them out throughout this process. In the old days, blackboards, paper charts, and spreadsheets were used for this purpose. Thankfully, technology and progress led to solutions that make life easier by automating time-consuming busywork.

The execution stage can begin when the project's phases are defined, broken down further into tasks, and assigned to specific people.

The creatives take over and do their magic.
Let's imagine a project. The client needs an app and its website created and promoted. This request calls for professionals in several different fields of expertise.

For starters, the designers need to create an initial concept for the app and the website. If the client likes it, the developers take a look from a technical side and give their feedback on what can be done and what needs to change. It's very common for misunderstandings and conflicts to arise in this exchange of opinions. "The lifelong battle between designers and developers" is a known issue in the industry, and there's yet no certain one-size-fits-all recipe for resolving it.

While the entire app and website are built, writers and graphic designers create the necessary content. Brands usually have a tone of voice and visual style already defined, but if they don't, or the client wants to rebrand, the guidelines are formed in close cooperation with them. These brand guidelines are then applied to every sentence, statement, and image.


4. Project Setbacks

All goes well until it doesn't. For each of the previously described phases, a myriad of setbacks can occur. Every completed milestone of the project requires the client's approval, and the delay of their feedback pushes back the project's development, threatening its deadlines.

This is the most frequent issue agencies deal with. Entire teams bend over backward to meet their deadlines, just to get no reply from their clients for weeks. Left in the dark, not knowing if what's delivered needs alterations, agencies turn to other projects and their deadlines. While they're engaged working on them, clients from previously completed projects swoop in asking for design changes.

Meanwhile, team members take days off, go on vacations and maternity/paternity leaves, or quit. Assignments need to be redistributed, new employees recruited and onboarded, paperwork sorted.

People often think it's clear who needs to do what. They believe it's implied who will edit a document, code, or image, by when, and in what way. Once they realize nothing is done how they imagined it, frustration and confusion ensue.

project setbacks

5. Taming the Agency Life Chaos

All these timelines, information mismatches, and difficulties with clients are managed and organized by Account Managers and Project Managers. Sometimes, they cooperate with Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches. But ultimately, Project Managers are the ones who pull invisible strings to make everything happen on time, as the client requested.

Established techniques and tools are the faithful assistants of our heroes. Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches are the masters of methodologies. They make sure meetings are held regularly and that any roadblocks or misunderstandings are removed from the path of completing tasks. Our interviews revealed that agencies rarely employ Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches and seldom use methodologies to organize their teams. They're aware of the existence of agile principles and try to stick to them, but they mostly don't use them and try to make it through the week the best way possible.

Instead, managers resort to project management tools to help them tame the chaos. Some of the agency owners we talked to said tools like ActiveCollab helped them put the entire workflow in order.

By dividing the workload and assigning individual pieces of the puzzle, there are no more misunderstandings as each team member knows what to do.
Communicating with clients is more transparent when one doesn't have to dig through email threads and answer phone calls at odd times.

When faced with delayed feedback or urgent demands, Project and Account Managers can show their clients precisely what the teams' workload and a project's timeline look like. One of our customers said he lets his clients see the ripple effect a late reply can create: one week of silence could postpone a project's milestone for a month!


6. Project Invoicing and Client Retention

When everything is said and done, the project is finally delivered and the curtain is brought down. The team can breathe a sigh of relief while the managers wrap up the deal with the client. Depending on the arrangement, any tweaks or additional requests can be charged extra.

The final act is, of course, invoicing and payment. Some companies and freelancers agree upon a fixed budget per project, while others charge by the hour. Both methods carry the same weak spot: will the client pay? And when? Will they agree to the extra charges? Account Managers, Project Managers, and even business owners need to deal with these questions.

One of our interviewees told us how his agency solved the problem of late payments: their clients pay half up front and the rest once the project is finished. This way, both parties are committed to a successful deal.

project invoicing and client retention

A Word of Advice

The people we spoke with told us what they'd do differently if they were starting over and what they'd advise someone considering opening an agency or who's already embarked on this adventure.

Every single team member knows exactly what their tasks are for the day and what needs to be accomplished going forward in the upcoming weeks and months.

Sarah Griffin

Managing Director and Producer @ Flyte Creative Media

ActiveCollab helps us stay on track, communicate with each other, and push projects along because of how easily we can assign tasks and deadlines - and it all stays in one place.

Audrey Hunt

Brand Designer @ White Space

The teams have become more cross-functional. With a common tool and a single project management methodology, it has been much easier to assign people to projects (and managers) they were not used to working with.

Borja Gramage

Organizational development @ Arisnova

Our billing process got significantly easier because we can use ActiveCollab to create bills based on tracked time records or fixed budgets.

Michael Friedrich

Managing Director and Producer @ brandpfeil

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